“The Desert Shall Rejoice, and Blossom as the Rose”
If you haven’t taken time to read the book, Our Heritage, you should. It’s an excellent summary of the history of the church. The next few lessons will be coming out of this book. This week, we learn of the great sacrifices made by the saints as they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. We look around and maybe even take for granted the beautiful city we have at our disposal, but remember, this place was practically a desert wasteland when Brigham Young and the saints arrived. In this lesson we see how faithful the early pioneer saints really were. They gave up everything they had to come the valley. Then they further sacrificed to bring forth the kingdom of the Lord in their new home.
Note, that throughout this page, most of the content is directly copied from the Our Heritage Manual. Very little of what is written below is my own words. It’s mostly quotes from General Authorities as taken from the D&C Teacher’s Manual or quotes from the Our Heritage Manual as mentioned above.
As we discuss some of the stories of the early Utah settlers, you will see that they were greatly blessed and that they truly understood the principles set forth in the following scriptures
- D&C 58:2–4:
- If we keep the commandments and are “faithful in tribulation,” we will be “crowned with much glory.”
- D&C 64:33–34:
- Those who are willing and obedient will be blessed in the land of Zion in the last days.
- D&C 82:10:
- The Lord is bound when we do what He says. He will bless us when we obey His commandments.
- D&C 93:1:
- Those who repent, come unto the Savior, and keep His commandments will see His face.
- D&C 130:19–21:
- A person who gains more knowledge and intelligence through diligence and obedience in this life will have an advantage in the world to come. We obtain blessings by obeying God’s laws.
First Year In The Valley
4 days after arriving, He struck his cane on the ground and said, “Right here will stand the temple of our God.”
Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “The pioneers were hungry and weary; they needed food and rest; a hostile desert looked them in the face; yet in the midst of such physical requirements they turned first to the building of temples and to the spiritual food and strength that the temples provide” Within one week after President Young marked the spot for the temple, the Saints began surveying the new city, with the temple at the center of the survey. The layout of the city focused the people on the temple.
Even though they were starving and just finished a long arduous task of traveling on foot for several hundred miles, they still kept their lives focus on the temple and the Lord’s work. The lesson manual asks a couple of introspective questions regarding this faith shown by the pioneers: Why should the temple be central in our lives today? How can we make the temple a more important part of our lives?
Take a minute and answer that question for yourself.
President Howard W. Hunter taught:
“We . . . emphasize the personal blessings of temple worship and the sanctity and safety that are provided within those hallowed walls. It is the house of the Lord, a place of revelation and of peace.
As we attend the temple, we learn more richly and deeply the purpose of life and the significance of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us make the temple, with temple worship and temple covenants and temple marriage, our ultimate earthly goal and the supreme mortal experience . . . May you let the meaning and beauty and peace of the temple come into your everyday life more directly”
The excavation for the large foundation was done by hand, requiring thousands of hours of labor. The cornerstones were laid on 6 April 1853. After a few years of work on the foundation, the Saints stopped work because of a problem with the United States government. The president of the United States had heard false stories that the Saints were rebelling against the government, so he sent an army to the Salt Lake Valley. In response, President Young had the Saints cover the foundation with dirt to make it look like an ordinary field.
When the Saints later unearthed the sandstone foundation, they noticed cracks in the rocks. They removed the sandstone and replaced it with solid granite blocks. President Young insisted that only the best materials and craftsmanship be used in the construction of the temple. He said:
“I want to see the temple built in a manner that it will endure through the Millennium. This is not the only temple we shall build; there will be hundreds of them built and dedicated to the Lord . . . And when the Millennium is over . . . I want that temple still to stand as a proud monument of the faith, perseverance and industry of the Saints of God in the mountains, in the nineteenth century”
It took years for the Saints to quarry, transport, and shape the granite blocks for the construction of the temple. During this time, they struggled just to survive, as they lost crops to the elements, served missions in faraway lands, and accepted calls to leave their homes and establish communities in remote areas. In spite of these many challenges, the Saints persevered, and with the Lord’s help they prevailed. The Salt Lake Temple was dedicated in 1893, 40 years after the cornerstones had been laid.
When Jeffrey R. Holland was president of Brigham Young University, he compared the building of our lives to the building of the Salt Lake Temple: “The prestigious Scientific American referred to [the Salt Lake Temple] as a ‘monument to Mormon perseverance.’ And so it was. Blood, toil, tears, and sweat. The best things are always worth finishing. ‘Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?’ (1 Corinthians 3:16.) Most assuredly we are.
As long and laborious as the effort may seem, we must keep shaping and setting the stones that will make our accomplishments ‘a grand and imposing spectacle.’ We must take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow, dream dreams and see visions, work toward their realization, wait patiently when we have no other choice, lean on our sword and rest a while, but get up and fight again . . . We are laying the foundation of a great work—our own inestimable future”
“By the time the grass began to grow the famine had waxed sore. For several months we had no bread. Beef, milk, pig-weeds, segoes [lily roots], and thistles formed our diet. I was the herd-boy, and while out watching the stock, I used to eat thistle stalks until my stomach would be as full as a cow’s. At last the hunger was so sharp that father took down the old bird-pecked ox-hide from the limb; and it was converted into most delicious soup.” The settlers freely cooperated and shared with each other and so were able to survive this difficult time.
By June 1848, the settlers had planted between five and six thousand acres of land, and the valley began to look green and productive. But to the Saints’ dismay, huge hordes of black crickets descended upon the crops. The settlers did everything they could. They dug trenches and turned streams of water on the crickets. They clubbed the insects with sticks and brooms and tried to burn them, but their efforts were useless. The crickets continued to come in seemingly endless numbers. Patriarch John Smith, president of the Salt Lake Stake, called for a day of fasting and prayer. Soon large flocks of seagulls appeared in the sky and descended on the crickets. Susan Noble Grant said of the experience: “To our astonishment, the gulls seemed almost ravenous while gobbling down the scrambling, hopping crickets.” The Saints watched in joy and wonderment. Their lives had been saved.
Even through all of this, they never lost their attitude as evidenced by the following account of a traveler:
The Saints worked with energy and faith despite their difficult circumstances, and soon they had made great progress. A traveler on his way to California passed through Salt Lake City in September 1849 and paid tribute to them in this way: “A more orderly, earnest, industrious and civil people, I have never been among than these, and it is incredible how much they have done here in the wilderness in so short a time. In this city which contains about from four to five thousand inhabitants, I have not met in a citizen a single idler, or any person who looks like a loafer. Their prospects for crops are fair, and there is a spirit and energy in all that you see that cannot be equaled in any city of any size that I have ever been in.”
In the late summer of 1848, President Brigham Young again made the journey from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley. When he arrived, he realized that the Saints needed to learn what resources were available in their new environment. Much was gained from Indians who lived in the area, but President Young also sent Church members on explorations to discover the medicinal properties of plants and the natural resources available.
He sent other exploring parties to find settlement sites. In their tr avels these members discovered mineral deposits, abundant timber, water sources, and grasslands, as well as suitable areas for settlement. To guard against land speculation, the prophet warned the Saints against cutting up their assigned property to sell to others. The land was their stewardship and was to be managed wisely and industriously, not for financial gain.
In the fall of 1849, the Perpetual Emigrating Fund was established under the direction of President Young. Its purpose was to assist the poor who did not have the means to travel to join the body of the Church. At great sacrifice, many Saints contributed to the fund, and as a result, thousands of members were able to travel to the Salt Lake Valley. As soon as they were able, those who received help were expected to repay the amount of assistance they had received. These funds were used to help still others. Through this cooperative effort, the Saints blessed the lives of those in need.
During this same time period, many saints were called out during conference to server colonization missions and preaching missions. Below are a few inspirational stories of a couple families who were called:
In 1862 Charles Lowell Walker received a call to settle in southern Utah. He attended a meeting for those who had been called and recorded: “Here I learned a principle that I shall not forget in awhile. It showed to me that obedience was a great principle in heaven and on earth. Well, here I have worked for the last seven years through heat and cold, hunger and adverse circumstances, and at last have got me a home, a lot with fruit trees just beginning to bear and look pretty. Well, I must leave it and go and do the will of my Father in Heaven, who overrules all for the good of them that love and fear him. I pray God to give me strength to accomplish that which is required of me in an acceptable manner before him.”
Charles C. Rich, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, also received a call to colonize. Brigham Young called him and a few other brethren to take their families and settle in the Bear Lake Valley, about 150 miles north of Salt Lake City. The valley was at a high altitude and was very cold with deep snows in the winter. Brother Rich had recently returned from a mission in Europe and was not anxious to move his family and start over again in difficult circumstances. But he accepted the call and in June 1864 arrived in the Bear Lake Valley. The next winter was unusually severe and by spring, some of the other brethren had decided to leave. Brother Rich realized that life would not be easy in this cold climate but said:
“There have been many hardships. That I admit . . . and these we have shared together. But if you want to go somewhere else, that is your right, and I do not want to deprive you of it . . . But I must stay here, even if I stay alone. President Young called me here, and here I will remain till he releases me and gives me leave to go.” Brother Rich and his family did stay, and he became the leader of a thriving community for the next several decades. 11 Like thousands of others, he willingly obeyed his leaders in order to help build the kingdom of the Lord.
Below are a few accounts of faithful missionaries who were called:
In their fields of labor, the missionaries witnessed miracles and baptized many people into the Church. When Lorenzo Snow, who later became President of the Church, was preaching in Italy, he saw a three-year-old boy on the verge of death. He recognized an opportunity to heal the child and open the hearts of the people in the area. That night he prayed long and earnestly for God’s direction, and the following day he and his companion fasted and prayed for the boy. That afternoon they administered to him and offered a silent prayer for help in their labors. The boy slept peacefully all night and was miraculously healed. Word of this healing spread across the valleys of the Piedmont in Italy. The doors were opened to the missionaries, and the first baptisms in the area took place.
Elder Edward Stevenson was called to the Gibraltar Mission in Spain. This call meant a return to the place of his birth, where he boldly proclaimed the restored gospel to his countrymen. He was arrested for preaching and spent some time in jail until authorities found he was teaching the guards, almost converting one of them. After his release he baptized two people into the Church and by January 1854 a branch of ten members had been organized. In July, even though six members had left to serve with the British army in Asia, the branch had eighteen members, including one seventy, one elder, one priest, and one teacher, giving the branch the leadership it needed to continue to grow.
For those who joined the Church outside the United States, this was a time for gathering to Zion, which meant traveling by boat to America. Elizabeth and Charles Wood sailed in 1860 from South Africa, where they had labored several years to acquire money for their travel. Elizabeth kept house for a wealthy man, and her husband made bricks until they obtained the needed funds. Elizabeth was carried aboard the ship on a bed 24 hours after delivering a son and was given the captain’s berth so she could be more comfortable. She was very ill during the journey, almost dying twice, but lived to settle in Fillmore, Utah.
Missionaries became very dear to the Saints in the countries where they served. Joseph F. Smith, near the end of his mission to Hawaii in 1857, became ill with a high fever that prevented him from working for three months. He was blessed to come under the care of Ma Mahuhii, a faithful Hawaiian Saint. She nursed Joseph as if he were her own son, and a strong bond of love developed between the two. Years later, when he was President of the Church, Joseph F. Smith visited Honolulu and just after his arrival saw an old blind woman being led in with a few choice bananas in her hand as an offering. He heard her call, “Iosepa, Iosepa” (Joseph, Joseph). Immediately he ran to her and hugged and kissed her many times, patting her on the head and saying, “Mama, Mama, my dear old Mama.”
To me, the great thing to be gained from this lesson is a witness of the faith of our ancestors and the early pioneer saints who settled this valley. It is an example of how to be for us. Take their example and seek to be as faithful as our heritage.